- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

RICHMOND Anti-tax advocates yesterday filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court to stop a referendum on increasing the sales tax in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund transportation projects in those areas.

"This is a situation where [referendum supporters] did not know how they were going to do it, and when they finally passed a referendum, they had not done their homework because this is clearly unconstitutional," said James Parmelee, chairman of the anti-referendum group NorthernVirginiaGOP.com and one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the referendum is unconstitutional because it would transfer the General Assembly's legislative power to voters in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

"The plaintiffs were concerned that no one has been able to produce for them reasons as to why these referendums are constitutional," former state Republican Chairman Patrick McSweeney said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. "Several legislators brought this up during the debate [in the General Assembly], but they were stonewalled A legislature can't divest itself of its responsibility by passing it on to the voters.

"We don't make up the rules as we go along," said Mr. McSweeney, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Other plaintiffs include Sanford J. Pankin, a Libertarian who lives in Hampton Roads, and Roger Pogge, a former Republican Party chairman in the 1st Congressional District, which includes Hampton Roads.

Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, made the transportation referendum in Northern Virginia a cornerstone of his campaign last year.

This year, the General Assembly with the help of Mr. Warner and House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican pushed through a referendum for voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that would allow them to raise the sales tax one-half percent to fund transportation projects.

"The governor feels strongly that the referendum is constitutional, and it was carefully crafted with the oversight of the attorney general," said Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner.

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, has 21 days to file a reply to the lawsuit.

"We believe that the statute as drafted by the legislature is constitutional, and we anticipate we will be defending it," said Timothy Murtaugh, a spokesman for Mr. Kilgore.

Both sides anticipate an expedited review of the case by the Circuit Court because of the timely nature of the case. The election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

In each region, the battle has created unlikely coalitions of conservative anti-tax groups such as Mr. Parmelee's with environmental organizations and groups opposed to rapid residential development.

"I am all for roads to be built where they are needed, but the people who use them should be paying for them," said Frank Hall of Smithfield, one of the Hampton Roads plaintiffs.

Mr. Hall, who lives about 30 minutes outside Norfolk, said he would be using the roads and tunnels built by the additional revenue raised in his region "about once a month."

The lawsuit contends that each of the petitioners in Hampton Roads would assume an additional tax burden of about $3.50 per $1,000 of personal income while each of the petitioners in Northern Virginia would incur about half that amount in additional taxes.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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